Discussions and an awareness raising session on humanitarian norms for Peshmerga commanders

Armed operations have recently increased around the contested city of Mosul, as well as in Sinjar and Makhmur, putting civilian populations in the area at risk. In this context, Geneva Call and the Middle East Research Institute co-organized an awareness raising session for 22 high-ranking Peshmerga commanders from different parts of the front. This training event followed on from a first meeting with Peshmerga forces that took place in March.

Trainers presented Geneva Call’s 15 rules of behaviour in armed conflict. They put an emphasis on the rules on distinction, proportionality, precaution, fundamental guarantees, displacement, and reprisals and vengeance.  A trainer from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) explained that organization’s mandate and its operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The ensuing discussions included issues related to displacement and the right of return, the challenges of distinguishing civilians from combatants, particularly in cases of suicide attacks, and commanders’ responsibilities to apply humanitarian norms. As one commander put it, “A mistake by a Peshmerga is a mistake made by the officer.”

Several options were discussed for improving the Peshmerga’s respect for humanitarian norms, such as the establishment of a training centre, adapting training materials or the creation of a humanitarian affairs office to support Peshmerga forces on legal issues. An upcoming follow-up meeting with stakeholders from the Peshmerga forces, coalition forces and humanitarian organizations will discuss the implementation of these recommendations.

The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are one of the main armed actors in Iraq. They number several hundred thousand combatants and are actively participating in the current armed operations to retake several areas from the Islamic State group (ISg).

Visit to the Sinjar region

Geneva Call’s team recently managed to get access to the Sinjar area and started discussions with a leader of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS). This armed non-State actor was created in 2007 to protect the Yezidi community. Discussions also started with Yezidi Peshmerga Forces.

Sinjar mountain was the location of a dramatic humanitarian crisis when tens of thousands of Yezidis were displaced there by the hostilities and trapped without water.

Since the city of Sinjar was retaken in November 2015 by a coalition of Kurdish armed forces, including the YBS, the security situation has improved and civilians have started to return. Nevertheless, the fighting on the nearby frontline with the ISg, in combination with limited infrastructure and economic perspectives, amongst other factors, has delayed the return of several thousand displaced Yezidis.

This visit marked the first step in a dialogue with Yezidi Peshmerga forces and Geneva Call’s engagement with the YBS on the respect of humanitarian norms. More visits and meetings are planned.

 

This programme is funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection(ECHO) in partnership with the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action.

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